Wonsuk Ma discusses the evidence supporting Isaiah 11:1-2 being a pre-exilic text.

Wonsuk Ma

Wonsuk Ma, Until the Spirit Comes: The Spirit of God in the Book of Isaiah (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 271; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 33–42

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Wonsuk Ma
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1 And a shoot shall go out from the stump of Jesse

A branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

2 And the spirit of Yahweh shall rest on him:

a spirit of wisdom and understanding,

a spirit of counsel and might,

a spirit of knowledge, and the fear of Yahweh.

The affinity to the royal psalms (particularly, to Ps. 72) leads Wildberger to conclude that vv. 1–5 is an oracle of a future king. The uncertainty of the oracular setting prompts Watts to see it as a ‘poem that deals with royal ideology’. A cultic use of the passage seems feasible. Attached to this royal poem is a description of a mythological paradisiacal world (vv. 6–9).

A logical structure is visible: the description of the coming ruler (1–3a) and equipment for his office (3b–5). The strict parallelism is evident throughout the passage, and the parallelism of the three pairs after a general statement in v. 2 (‘the spirit of Yahweh …’) is noteworthy.

Arguments both for Isaianic authorship and for a later redactional origin are posited by an equally impressive number of scholars. The matter boils down to two factors; the interpretation of גזע, ‘stump’, and the positive nature of the oracle.

Mowinckel contends that, as far as the ‘stock of Jesse’ is concerned, there is no sidestepping of it. For him it is natural to assume that the Davidic family tree has toppled after the fall of Judah. Further, in another connection, Mowinckel asserts that גזע here, and in Job 14:8 means ‘the stump of a tree which has been felled’, although he does not rule out the possibility that the term in other places may refer also to the living stem of a plant. R.E. Clements argues that a postexilic hand had a definite intention to balance out the preceding negative message (10:26–32) with a positive one. He also draws attention to a close similarity to Mic. 5:2–4 as a clue for the later origin. This view is shared by a number of scholars.

Those who argue for the Isaianic origin acknowledge that גזע is most commonly applied to a fallen tree. However, they assert that ‘the realization of the judgment announced [earlier] by Isaiah is a sufficient reason for the use of such an expression’. Stacey contends that ‘every time the king dies, a tree from the root falls; but a shoot from the same stock, a new son of David, takes his place’; while Hayes and Irvine argue this to refer to the territorial reduction in Isaiah’s early career. It is also true that messages of salvation are not uncommon in Isaiah 1–39, although they are less frequent than in Second and Third Isaiah.

It is not an easy task to weigh between these two convincing presentations. Yet at least two additional factors should be taken into consideration. As Gottwald observes, one is that, in Isaiah, there are two types of expectations of God’s rule, namely, with a human agency, which is mostly a kingly figure (9:2–7; 11:1–9), and without any human instrumentality (12:4–6; 14:25; 17:12–14; 29:5–8). This is in contrast to the expectation of Second and Third Isaiah, which does not describe a definite royal figure of this kind. The description is more vague and less royal as seen, for instance, in the Servant Songs. This difference is further argued because of Isaiah’s interest in the continuity of the Davidic monarchy. Hence, the postexilic date of the Micah passage on which Clements asserts the postexilic origin of the present passage should be re-examined. The other factor to be considered is the Sitz im Leben of the passage. The literary features betray a definite connection with 9:2–7 which appears not to be a prediction but an announcement in a royal ceremony. Isaiah 11:1–5 may possibly be another royal oracle, although Crook’s detailed argument for a ninth-century origin of the tradition is yet to be established. The absence of a typical expression for a distant future, like ‘in the end of days’ or ‘in that day’, supports the cultic function of the passage. In addition, the appearance of the typical paired words of Isaiah, ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness’ gives a slight affirmative nod in favor of the early date of the passage.

The endowment of the spirit of Yahweh to the coming ruler recalls an old tradition in which רוח is closely associated with Yahweh’s chosen charismatic leaders, the judges (Judg. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:16, 19; 15:13, 14; 19:9, 20, 23) and the first two kings (1 Sam. 10:6, 10; 11:6; 16:13, 14; 19:9). This idea might have survived in the northern kingdom, while in Judah the dynastic succession has replaced God’s direct intervention in the selection and equipping of national leaders.22 After a long silence of Yahweh’s רוח in the monarchy, the tradition of charismatic leadership and the Davidic succession are combined here for the future king.

This divine equipment with the רוח of Yahweh is distinguished from the ancient Near Eastern understanding of kingship, in which the divine equipment of the king is attributed to a supernatural conception or birth, or to nursing at the breast of a goddess. Here the charismatic endowment of the future king is the source of all his royal virtues. H. Ringgren notices an allusion to 1 Sam. 16:13, where David is anointed and as a consequence the spirit ‘will rest’ upon him. The permanency and gentle nature of the endowment are noted against the temporary effect of the spirit upon the earlier leaders such as the judges.

However, this ideal king is never pictured as independent from Yahweh, not only because of the ultimate divine source of his virtues, but also because of his constant subjection to God in the fear of Yahweh. This appears to be reminiscent of the pre-monarchic leadership which was characterized by Yahweh’s direct rule with earthly leaders as his instrument of salvation. It is not the king who uses the רוח of Yahweh, but vice versa, just as the spirit of Yahweh ‘clothes’ itself with Gideon (Judg. 6:34). Yahweh is the true ruler over Israel, and not a king or even with all the idealized qualifications. Yet the significance of the endowment of the spirit does not totally rest in the idealized virtues of the king. According to Mowinckel, the exclusive endowment with the spirit separates the king from ordinary human beings. Although his understanding of Yahweh’s רוח here goes beyond a justifiable limit, the association of the רוח of Yahweh certainly gives the king ‘the quality of “holiness” ’, closer to the idea of sacral kingship. It implies a direct association of the king with divinity, although in the case of Saul there are two distinct effects of the presence of the spirit (1 Sam. 19:23–24 and 10:5–6, 10; 11:6–7).

The three pairs of attributes of the ruler are all virtues that belong to the old ideal of a king. A close connection between wisdom and kingship is common in the ancient Near Eastern world. That Israelites share this common idea is made clear here in the explicit expression of ‘wisdom’ and in Isa. 9:6 in the name of ‘wonder of a counselor’. Wisdom is the ‘ability to act according to what the circumstances demand’ in his capacity as a judge in its premonarchical sense. In the Israelite tradition, as in the ancient Near Eastern world, the royal wisdom is mainly for judicial and political purposes as the paired word ‘understanding’ further clarifies (for David and Solomon, 2 Sam. 14:20; 1 Kgs 4:29–34 and particularly the paired words in 1 Kgs 3:12, ‘a wise and understanding heart’). Moreover, Isa. 11:4 makes it clear that the protection of the underprivileged is the foremost task of the king. This definitely reflects the keen interest of Isaiah in social unrighteousness and injustice (e.g. the frequent reference to ‘righteousness’ in Isa. 1:21, 26, 27; 5:7, 16, 23; 9:6[7]; 10:22; 28:17 and ‘justice’ in 1:17, 21, 27; 5:7, 16; 9:6 [7]; 10:2; 16:5; 28:6, 17). The practice of the crediting of wisdom to a divine source is not widely shared, as seen in the claim of the king of Tyre who boasts himself as the source of wisdom (Ezek. 28:2–7, 12, 17). In Isaiah, however, the reliance of the future ruler upon Yahweh is absolute. He is called ‘prince’ (שׂר), an official commissioned by a higher authority, who receives advice from the universal king (2 Sam. 16:23).

The influence of wisdom tradition in Isa. 11:1–5 is further attested by the employment of עצה in the second pair. This often used pair, ‘counsel and might’ (for a human being, 2 Kgs 18:20; Isa. 36:5; and for God, Job 12:13), however, has a political interest with its paired word ‘might’. It refers to an ‘ability to weigh the facts and come to the right conclusions’ and ‘a courage and strength to carry out’ decisions the ruler makes that apparently are God’s will. The fact that the ruler does not need counselors is aligned to the thought of 40:13–14. With little martial reference, the description of the ruler seems to reflect more of the administrative ‘judging’ function than the ‘savior’ role of the judges. The spirit of Yahweh is the source of executing his עצה which is also established by the same source. Here, two main elements of kingship ideology, עצה from wisdom tradition and ‘might’ stemming from the role of the judges, are ideally combined for the future ruler.

The last group appears slightly different from the first two. The ‘spirit of knowledge and fear of Yahweh’ is an effect of the endowment rather than the quality of the ruler. This line certainly distinguishes itself from the first two. In Hebrew thought, knowing or knowledge is more than intellectual processes or achievement. It is ‘practical acknowledgment of God which is implemented in thought and action’.41 This naturally leads to the fear of Yahweh which is not just ‘numinous awe, but moral conduct’ (Prov. 1:7, 29; 9:10). The secret of the earthly king’s success lies in the intimate knowledge of the divine king and in his total subjection to Yahweh. There is no doubt that this pair, too, shows a strong wisdom influence with the ‘knowledge of Yahweh’ and the famous Wisdom motif, the ‘fear of Yahweh’.

The effect of his rule is described in two ways: the administration of righteousness and justice, which inevitably involves the judgment of the evil and wicked (v. 3), and the paradisiacal peace in the human and animal world, probably attached later. If the historical context of the passage is, as von Rad argues, the Assyrian attack and its defeat, the oracle may well reflect the unjust society and the king’s failure to match the Israelite’s lofty kingship ideology. Historically speaking, the expectation of a messiah is not in the distant future, but in the immediate future, as is the case in other great ‘messianic’ passages (7:23b–9:6[7]). At the same time, Isaianic eschatology has the expectation of a radical fulfilment with a new David who is ‘the root of Jesse’, the one whom Micah expects from Bethlehem, not from Jerusalem. Naturally, the רוח of Yahweh too becomes an eschatological element in the ‘messianic’ expectation. The passage is looking forward, while at the same time looking back to the spirit of God as a distinct mark of a chosen vessel of God.

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